What is a lawyer and when do you need one? Is an attorney a different professional and do they do a different job? 

On television and the big screen, we often hear the words “lawyer” and “attorney” used to mean the same thing. But are they the same thing?

In most situations, when you need legal advice, it does not matter what a person calls themself as long as they have a license to practice law in your state. There are, however, some small differences in the origins of the words lawyer and attorney.

When You Want to Speak to Your Lawyer 

A lawyer is “a person learned in the law” who offers legal advice or provides legal representation in exchange for money. Lawyers are generalists. They can handle any kind of case. 

Most lawyers, however, develop a deep experience in a single subject of the law or practice area. By focusing on a single type of case, they gain specialized knowledge of narrow areas of law. Some lawyer specialties include:

Once they become specialized, these lawyers gain influence with courts and reputations among other lawyers. They can provide a high-level of representation to clients and can charge higher fees. 

What Does a Lawyer Do?

A lawyer offers legal services for money. Sometimes, clients need legal advice but are not involved in a lawsuit. 

For example, an employee with damaging information about their employer may seek guidance if they’re considering blowing the whistle. Another example might be a restaurant owner seeking advice on issues of equal pay or pooling tips.

A lawyer can help these people make informed decisions about their course of action. For these services, a lawyer may charge an hourly rate. Many lawyers offer free consultations on a variety of matters from harassment at work to the validity of non-compete agreements.

Lawyers also offer services related to asserting legal rights, or defending legal claims in court. These court cases require paperwork to be prepared and filed with courts. 

They also involve settlement conferences and sometimes live in-person trials before the court. A lawyer can take your employer to court to help you assert your right to accommodations for disability-related needs or Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits. 

What is the Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney?

The Latin phrase “to attorn” means to transfer one’s rights and obligations to another person. An attorney, then, is a person who manages another person’s legal rights and obligations in that person’s absence.

While lawyers can be attorneys who handle their client’s legal matters on their behalf, you may wish to appoint another person to handle matters on your behalf. To do so, you can ask a lawyer to help you prepare a “power of attorney”. 

A power of attorney is a document that gives another person the right to act on your behalf. A power of attorney can be temporary or permanent. It can also give general power or limit a person’s authority to specific matters. 

You may also be familiar with the use of the word to refer to specific offices of government held by lawyers, such as “attorney general” or “district attorney.” These people are charged with taking care of the legal affairs of the entire citizenship or the public interest. 

Are There Other Words for Lawyer and Attorney?

There are other words to describe people who have licenses to practice law. Since lawyers often have to provide emotional support, it is appropriate that they are sometimes called “counsel.” 

When referring to an adversary lawyer, they may call them “opposing counsel.”  An attorney who works on the legal matters of a business or corporation exclusively is called an “in-house counsel.

To learn more, call our San Diego law firm at (619) 693-7727 or contact us online.

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About The Author

Nicholas J. Ferraro

Nicholas J. Ferraro is a skilled labor and employment lawyer and the founder of Ferraro Vega Employment Lawyers, Inc. Based in San Diego, he focuses on representing employees in class action and collective litigation cases. Education: Mr. Ferraro attended the University of San Diego School of Law, where he was a member of the San Diego Law Review. Experience: Over a decade of legal practice, representing more than 100,000 employees. Court Admissions: Mr. Ferraro represents his clients throughout the State of California and the State of Washington. He is a member of the State Bar of California. Community Involvement: Active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association and the San Diego County Bar Association.